This semester is my busiest semester since arriving to China. My contract stipulates that I should only be teaching 16 hours, yet this semester I find myself teaching 20. Teaching extra hours, above and beyond your contract is basically a teaching no-no. In China there are many disreputable schools that will work you to the bone if you let them. But luckily not my school. The extra classes were my idea and something I teach very happily. You’ll understand why in a sec.
You see, last year, second semester, we found out that the class schedule was light, and were told that if we wanted to create and teach some of our own classes that would be no problem. I created a book club class, in which we got to read fun, modern books to counter the stuffy tomes they are required to read in lit class. About 50 kids signed up, which had me teaching 2 extra classes, but I stayed within my 16 hour limit.
In one class I taught them about Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. As I was explaining it I brought up Luke Skywalker, who epitomizes the hero’s journey. When I said his name, I got a bunch of blank looks. That’s not unusual, usually the kids know the Chinese name only and I explained Star Wars. One girl understood, told her classmates the Chinese title, and there were a few shrugs and nods, but no real understanding.
“You guys have seen it, right?”They shook their heads.
“You’ve never seen Star Wars?!” Again, I got a bunch of head shakes.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?!?!?!?!” (There might have been a little tearing of hair and rending of cloth. I mean, to not like Star Wars is one thing it just means you’re an idiot but to not know anything about it? Well, that’s just depressing.)
I tried to remedy that immediately, holding a special nighttime book club class so we could watch the first Star Wars movie. (And by first, I mean Episode IV-A New Hope, naturally.) Turns out they didn’t like it. It was “boring” and “too hard to understand.”
I later realized the problem was that they were focusing too much on the plot. (The whole rebel alliance, imperial senate and all that political junk.) That’s not the important stuff. Hell, I don’t think I really understood the whole back story for years. I mean, did any kid really understand the meaning of the scrawling words in the beginning? No, we were all just enthralled by the words floating away in the horizon.
So I’m giving it another shot. My schedule was full this semester, and creating my own class was unnecessary, but I could not let this pass. I might totally avoid teaching grammar and verb conjugations, but dammit all if I’m going to let them graduate without teaching them about Star Wars! (I really wanted to wait until Star Wars Day on May 4th, but I couldn’t wait that long.)
I created a class called “British and American Culture Through Movies” which I am secretly calling “Nerd 101.” Actually, there is meaning behind this class. We (as in native English speakers) use so many pop culture references in our daily speech that it is a very valid part of the English language. I mean we call someone a ‘psycho’ and babysit a bunch of ‘munchkins’ thanks to movies. And if Kermit never sang “It’s not easy being Green,” then what would car commercials use in their ads?
So far we’ve watched Wizard of Oz, and Back to the Future, and future classes will include The Muppet Movie and The Matrix. But this week is the mother of all classes.
This week is Star Wars.
I’ve spent hours preparing this class and I am going to attempt the show clips from all the movies (yes, I’m ignoring the prequels. I’ll mention their existence, but that’s as far as I’ll go with them.), and try to convey the impact on pop culture in a mere 3 hours. I’m not sure it is humanly possible, but I’m willing to keep them there all night if necessary.
We’ll also stop and discuss some of the more meaningful moments, like when Obi-Wan talks about the force, when Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try,” and of course I will be teaching them all that Han shot first.
I’ve been finding a lot of excellent stuff on the web and thought I’d share a few things especially funny videos here. (My apologize to those of you in China. I got the videos from Youtube, so you’ll need a VPN to see them.)
Here’s an awesome one taking the Han/Greedo controversy to the next level.
Here is an ‘Epic Rap Battles of History’ featuring Darth and Adolf Hitler.
I try to make sure all of my classes are fun and interesting. But to be honest, I’m not sure how much they are going to like my Star Wars class. I mean, first off, it’s kind of annoying watching bits and pieces of a movie, and secondly, I’m not sure their really going to like it. But I figure it’s like eating your veggies. It’s good for you. These kids watch and want to understand shows like Big Bang Theory and modern movies. They can’t do that without knowing about Star Wars.